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Do you have any CD’s in your collection that will be forever associated with some event or season of life—like the soundtrack to your last high school summer or what you listened to over and over again on that one road trip to wherever it was?
Andrew Osenga’s Photographs is one of those for me. I was walking home in the winter after dropping my car off at the dealer for some work, toying with the irony that my Maker was working on me too. Huddled down in my coat, hands in pockets, iPod on, I walked the few miles home, and listened to Photographs. Now, whenever I hear it, I’m reminded of that walk, of that winter, and of how that walk that winter gave me what this record deserves: a close, careful and unhurried listen.
As a musician, Andrew Osenga is a unique voice in that he can deliver a folk-tune with all the earnestness of an old-school troubadour, and then turn the volume up to eleven with unadulterated, straight-ahead rock and roll. Not only is he capable at both. He’s good. For his musicianship alone, you can’t go wrong with any of his releases. And vocally he has a great gift of knowing where he is in a song a delivering his lines just right within their context.
But Andy is also a courageous songwriter. He doesn’t spoon-feed us the context for his songs. You don’t always know if he’s being introspective, autobiographical or just spinning a good yarn. But you always have the sense he is up to something with each song.
Photographs speaks in many voices. The mark of Osenga’s skill is how seamlessly he tells these tales without flinching, and without feeling the need to tell us how everything worked out okay in the end. His songs are slices of life, little snippets of unfolding stories, told with simplicity and great importance. Yet, before and after these photographs are much larger unfolding stories in the process of being told.
“High School Band” is a great example of this. It’s the same weekend in September every year, and sitting in their lawn chairs on that hill, the people who have gathered to watch the Homecoming parade calibrate the passage of time and the plodding on of life. They are ordinary by appearance, but complex when the curtain gets pulled back a bit. Aren’t we all? No one has a simple story.
Osenga has a way of saying things that causes me to check to make sure I heard him right. And some of these lines, when I realized I had heard them right, left me more moved than I expected to be, like when one of his characters describes growing up without a dad: “A boy without his father has mighty shoes to fill. He becomes a husband to his mother and a daddy to himself.”
The theme that emerges throughout is this: We become who we are. Your life, my life… they are the perfect result of the lives we’ve lived up to this point. And our lives have become what they are at least in part due to the generations before us who either gave or withheld what we needed and either improved or ruined those things before handing them down.
And we’re in the process of doing the same.
When I hear the opening swell of the first track, my mind pulls out a photograph of me walking home in the winter. And I remember Osenga’s record, but I also remember how that was a season of growth and change in my life—how I was in the process of becoming who I am. And how I still am. And how its constant…
“So take a photograph, cause this ain’t gonna last…”
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).